Online literary magazines have opened up a whole new world of creative writing.
Innumerable literary magazines are available on the Internet; some a dutiful web presence of their print editions and many others content at being a presence on the web. But as Aruni Kashyap, Fiction and Poetry editor of Northeast Review, says, “The list of literary journals in English published in the country is just a handful and Indian writers have had to depend on patronage from American and British literary journals; thus depending on editors who probably do not understand our concerns as intimately as an Indian editor would.”
So it was only inevitable that the worldwide trend would find its echo in India. Sharing their inspiration for starting Spark magazine, Anupama Krishnakumar and Vani Viswanathan say it was their desire to, “create a platform that is accessible to the talented common writer and, at the same time, is well-edited and could boast of quality standards that mark the well-established literary magazines seen in the market.”
For Kulpreet Yadav, founder-editor of Open Road Review, it was his desire for a journal with an Indian soul that inspired him, “but I didn’t want to limit the work published to just India. Indian writing, like anywhere else in the world, has its own local flavour. I wanted that to stand out against the international writings so that the readers can have a more enriching experience.” Divya Dubey of Earthen Lamp Journal says she wanted to offer a platform for writers and artists from different genres. “I also wanted to experiment with other genres/areas — translations, poetry, non-fiction, and other forms of art such as painting and photography.”
The desire to provide a showcase for diverse forms of creative expression is evident in the various genres besides writing that find space within the canvas of online literary magazines. The Northeast Review has a section on photo essays, which, according to Kashyap happened because “we are interested in anything and everything that tells a story. We are also thinking of introducing a section on short films about the Northeast.” The editors of Spark decided to include art and photography, because they add richness and variety to interpreting a theme.
Even within the realm of the written word, e-zines are determinately trying to ease the boundaries to encompass diverse forms of written expression. Amit Baishya, Features editor at the Northeast Review, says, “Part of our endeavour is to encourage new ways of critical thinking about literary traditions — both ‘established’ and ‘under-represented’.”
Non-fiction editor Sumana Roy agrees, “In a section called ‘The Tin Trunk’, we are trying to create an archive where writers talk about their writing. It’s also one of the sad characteristics of Indian literary history: this silence of writers on their writing, and writers on their contemporaries.”
Suneetha Balakrishan, editor at Earthen Lamp, has this to say, “India is a huge canvas for literature, and translations are where the real picture lies, especially in fiction and poetry. I still don’t think IWE is representative of India in writing even in a small way.” The route taken by the Open Road Review to make literature accessible to a larger audience is to introduce audio for select stories. “Our endeavour is to have audio links for all the stories we publish.”
Editors of the online e-zines are constantly looking out for unique voices articulating hitherto uncharted domains. According to Baishya, “We would like to receive more essays on the divergent literary histories from the north-eastern region.”
Viswanathan rues the paucity of good non-fiction for their themes. “Few writers venture into socially relevant ways of interpreting a particular theme, or involving current affairs.” Abdullah Khan of Earthen Lamp Journal agrees, “Non-fiction is the least popular genre while the most submissions are from poets.”
All the editors speak in one voice about the immense response from writers. But, at the same time, there is also the oft-heard lament about writers not looking at the guidelines closely while sending in their pieces. Shanti Perez, fiction editor of Open Road Review, points out that this can potentially affect chances of acceptance. “Whether submissions follow guidelines or not is important because it reflects how detail oriented the writer is and how seriously they take the presentation of their work.” Krishnakumar adds, “People do not pay attention to the theme announcement for a month, some mail links to their blog posts telling us ‘to see if we want to publish this’ or send blank e-mails with just the attachment without any cover letter.”
Not fitting to the theme is the one of the most common reasons for rejecting a piece, according to Khan. “Since each of our issues is theme-based we need submissions relating to that particular theme only but our authors do not consider that before submitting their pieces.”
Given the number of submissions, how do the editors choose pieces for their e-zine? For Dubey, it is honesty and appeal, besides something that speaks straight to the heart. For Perez, it is how well the beginning holds her attention. Leah McMenamin, Open Road Review’s poetry editor, wants to see that, “the poet has put time into the editing of his/her poem, so that it makes sense grammatically and you know the poet felt it was in its best form when it was sent through to us.”
On asked about the leap from the virtual world to print, Dubey points out that the world is moving from print to web.” Spark offers a POD option to interested readers but the editors quickly point out, “An e-zine can reach a large audience irrespective of geography, and feedback is quicker.” According to Uddipana Goswami, founder-editor of Northeast Review, “an e-zine would ensure ample space to focus not just on the Northeast but also give a wider reach than print.”
Talking about the readership of the e-zines, Goswami continues, “We get submissions from all over the world, which means we are also being read all over the world.” Visitor statistics on the home page of the Open Road Review show the number of hits the site has generated. “In one year, it has attracted over 55,000 visitors,” says Yadav. Revealing the visitor statistics for their magazine, Spark’s editors say that they receive maximum visitors from India closely followed by the U.S. “In 2013 so far, we have recorded 389,019 hits from India while the U.S. was at 168,736 hits.”
Summing up, Goswami says, “We just hope to eventually build up a strong body of writing, discover interesting writers and generate discussion about where we come from, geographically and intellectually.” Dubey agrees, “We also aim to focus on good writers/works that usually don’t get their due. Everybody gives attention to prize-winners, but there are so many others who don’t win prizes and awards but still write brilliantly and have something significant to say.”